Ballade at Arles

They say the stars are much bigger than us, Henri.
It seems so tonight; see them splattered over the sky?
They look like drips and drabs of paint to me,
Or the blood of God, or splashes of dye.
But never mind that; I am no poet — mais non, not I.
Do you recall the gypsy who said, when their caravan came through last year,
That I should in time capture a man’s heart, and his eye….
Mais, oui — or perhaps just his ear.

But look at that man, Henri! Over there — you see?
A ruffian he looks, watching as we pass by.
A painter? Ah, yes, I see now the spattered smock, the palette on his knee.
Still, he looks the type of a rogue to me, and I’ll tell you why:
It’s the artists’ temper, they say, all tempests and sighs.
He seems the kind of man, I fear,
Who might cut off his hand and give it to a whore who would never know why….
Mais, oui — or perhaps just his ear.

(2011)

An exercise poem: The prompt was to choose a favorite painting with people in it, and write a poem from the point of view of one of them.

It turns out that most of my favorite paintings don’t have people in them. Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone is an exception. As I looked at the painting in terms of a poem, I realized the two walking figures are looking out at the viewer — and thus, at the painter. The poem jump-started at that moment.

The ballade is an old French form; it felt appropriate for this poem, and it fell into the form very easily. I’m fond of the woman who’s the speaker in this poem; I think that made it even easier to write.

Starry_Night_Over_the_Rhone

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